BInspired: Fundraising Ideas


Fundraising is an increasingly important financing tool for more organizations than ever before. From traditional non-profit organizations providing needed community services and religious organizations performing outreach, reliance on fundraising has expanded even to public schools as the basis of providing many services to students that had previously been funded by school districts such as librarian services, field trips, school supplies and, in some cases, even school nursing programs. Too, many sports and recreational organizations are relying increasingly on fundraising activities both for students and adults. Promotional products can, and usually do, play a key role in many organizations fundraising efforts. 

So, you need to raise funds for your non-profit organization? Before jumping right in, there are some key factors that you need to consider to help optimize your efforts and increase the chances of meeting your goals. In addition, we’ve included a variety of examples and ideas that could be utilized for fundraisers or simply to help inspire your own ideas!


Why Do You Need the Money?

It’s important to clearly identify the purpose(s) for the funds being sought. If it is to fund the overall organizations efforts, then this should correlate to the mission of the organization (and you should create one if you haven’t already). If it is for a specific element of the mission, then specify where the money will go. For example, an overall fundraising effort may be needed to support a Meal Delivery service to low income seniors while a more specific effort might be used to purchase a new delivery vehicle for the service. 

It’s not only essential for the non-profit organization (and its members) to understand and agree to the purpose for the funds, but most donors will need to understand the purpose and see the value in making a donation. It’s important to remember that you have an ethical responsibility to utilize donations for the purposes agreed to by the donor. In many cases, donors will agree to a donation for a specific purpose because they see more value in or relate better to a specific goal. For example, if an avid baseball fan makes a donation specifically intended to support a school’s baseball program, the school must utilize the funds for that purpose or seek the donor’s permission to redirect the funds for other purposes.

While limiting the purpose of a fundraising effort to a specific purpose (like the new delivery vehicle) may eliminate some flexibility relative to use of the funds, it can generate more donations by enabling donors to earmark their funds to causes that are near and dear to their heart… or encourage those uniquely positioned to address the full need (e.g. a car dealer might just donate that delivery vehicle or offer an incredible deal!)


Who Is Most Likely To Donate?

While most non-profits will gladly accept donations from anyone with (legal) means, the reality is that people tend to donate to causes in which they have some sort of shared interest. Even when using mass-marketing approaches like telemarketing and direct mail, most of those who respond will share an interest in your cause to some degree. So, to optimize budgets, it’s best to define who your target donors (e.g. those most likely to donate) and to focus your fundraising on those approaches that will be best received by the target donors. There are a variety of potential donors that can have a shared interest including:


  • Direct Beneficiaries – Those directly benefiting from your fundraising efforts should be included in your target. While they may benefit from the funds, they may still be able to afford to contribute toward the cause even if they require assistance in some manner. For example, a High School’s Senior Class members would certainly be target donors for “senior trip” fundraising efforts. 
  • Past Beneficiaries – In many cases, those who benefited in the past for an fundraising effort are ideal target donors since they have first-hand experience of the benefits they obtained from the program. This is why many schools and colleges target alumni in their fundraising efforts. 
  •  Indirect Beneficiaries – Family, friends and neighbors of direct beneficiaries are also good candidates to include as target donors. Their relationship with the beneficiary may be enough to encourage their donation but there can be further motivations as well. For example, neighborhoods impacted by homelessness may be support fundraising for a homeless shelter as a means of addressing their personal needs as well as those of the homeless. 
  • Associated Beneficiaries – In many cases, the purpose of your fundraising may compliment another party’s separate interests encouraging their donation as a way to further their own cause. For example, businesses that do a lot of hiring from a particular university may contribute to the universities diversity recruitment efforts as the basis of helping the business later achieve its own diversity goals.
  •  Community Beneficiaries – While these could also be considered indirect beneficiaries, these potential donors may not know specific that benefit from your program. Instead, these donors benefit by virtue of their role within the broader community. For example, this might include corporations that support causes for the good-will that it generates among community members… and, in particular, their customers and employees.

In each category, it’s important to assess its viability as a target donor. For example, it may be very reasonable to expect that a Scout’s families and friends will buy cookies themselves during their annual cookie sales. However, it may not be as reasonable to expect that home-bound seniors living on fixed income to make any contributions for a meal delivery program. It’s also important to be as specific as possible in identifying target donors and how prospective donors would benefit from their support. A local pizzeria that benefits by being acknowledged for their support of a community fundraiser may be more inclined to support your cause than a submarine shop two counties away. 


What Type of Fundraising Should You Pursue?

Having identified the various target donors, the next step is to identify the type(s) of fundraising that they will best respond to. There are a variety of different types of fundraising that an organization can pursue. For many causes, a combination of these efforts can be appropriate to reach the largest number of target donors. Key types of fundraising include:

  • Fundraising Sales – Selling products for a cause is among the most popular type of fundraising for organizations of all sizes. From schools selling candy bars and gift wrap to the annual scout cookie drive, this has been a common practice for decades.

One of the key benefits of fundraising through sale of goods (or services) is that the donor is receiving something tangible in return for their support. While they donor may be paying a premium for the product (after all, would as many people pay $4 for a small box of cookies at the grocery store?), they can justify the price based on the value it provides to the non-profit’s beneficiaries. Sales are a great way to raise funds from a larger group of people that may not have the means to make large donations but are willing to pay a bit more for a product that provides them value. 

  • Fundraising Events – Fundraising events are another popular option. This includes organization sponsored events (e.g. charity auctions, walks, etc.) as well as commercial events (e.g. concerts, fairs, etc.) that contribute a portion of proceeds to non-profit organizations. Obviously, commercial events that donate to a non-profit can be much less work for the organization and are relatively low risk but may require a high-profile cause and months or years of coordination. While events organized by a non-profit organization can yield considerable donations, they can involve considerable planning, volunteer efforts, up-front costs (e.g. facilities, food/drink, etc.) and risks if attendance/donations fall short.

Like Sales drives, events often provide donors with value in the form of entertainment in exchange for their support. That is true whether it’s a sell-out concert, a school talent show or a casino night fundraiser. Events can be a great option for organizations with a large volunteer base that can support such efforts. Also, costs for events can often be off-set by suppliers that are willing to contribute all or a portion of their goods/services to support the cause. 

  • Soliciting Donations – Direct solicitation of donations is one of the most common fundraising approaches. The importance of having identified your target donor is critical to the effectiveness of this approach. While mass mailings and telemarketing can clearly yield substantial funds, the costs associated can be high. While there are companies who will perform these services for organizations, they typically take a substantial percentage of the proceeds. In addition, reports in recent years of fundraising scams as well as the disproportionate costs for commercialized solicitations have made donors suspect of impersonal, mass-appeals for donations. Based on that, it is best to focus direct solicitation on specifically targeted donors most likely to support the cause.

Even solicitation efforts can offer donors with something tangible in return for their donations as a means of furthering the potential for a donation. This may be a simple acknowledgement certificate or a gift that is proportionate to the value of the contribution.  Another great idea for annual campaigns is to provide donors with a commemorative gift (e.g. custom coin, lapel pin, etc.) featuring a unique design for each year.  This can encourage donors to give annually to maintain a collection of the commemorative pieces.  Similarly, commemoratives may be tied to gift levels (e.g. gold pin, silver pink, bronze pin, etc.) to further encourage higher level donations each year.

  • Sponsorship – With stadiums named after beers and university buildings named after mobile chip manufacturers, sponsorship has become an increasingly prevalent means of fundraising for civic and non-profit causes alike. While sponsor ship is often employed by large corporations, many medical and academic facilities are named after individual philanthropists as another form of sponsorship. While some communities view corporate sponsorship wearily, particularly when it comes to schools, others view such sponsorship as just another avenue of meeting the community’s needs in times of tight budgets.

Sponsorship gives companies and individuals visibility for their support of worthy civic or non-profit causes.  While grand scale sponsorships of buildings can’t  happen every day, the concept can be employed on a smaller scale more routinely. For examples, some local companies sponsor sports teams in exchange for displaying the company’s logo on the back of their jerseys. Likewise, some alumni leave their estates to their alma mater in exchange for establishing a scholarship in their name.


When Should You Hold Your Fundraiser?

The right timing can be important when planning fundraising campaigns. It’s important to determine the best timing for your campaign considering a variety of factors including:

  • Competition – Research to identify when other organizations’ fundraising efforts are planned that may also target the same donors to avoid direct competition to the extent possible. It’s probably not going to be a good idea to try to sell cookies while the Girl Scouts are having their annual sale. If you cannot an avoid overlap in timing, avoid directly competing by selling different products or pursuing a different type of campaign. 
  • Volunteers – Consider the availability and enthusiasm of volunteer support during different parts of the year, especially when a campaign relies heavily on volunteer efforts for success. For example, a school fundraiser can be more effective early in the school year or start of school semesters while interest may wane late in the school year.
  • Seasonal Influences – While competition can be higher during the holiday season, donors may be more generous during this time. Similarly, selling door-to-door is far more viable during mild Spring and Fall weather than during colder winter months or the heat of summer.  Anyone in Minneapolis up for a Car Wash Fundraiser next January?
  • Fiscal Years – Many companies include philanthropic causes in their annual budgets and require requests in advance of their annual budget cycle.  It’s important to be aware of any deadlines for requesting donations (or grants) and plan accordingly. 


What Fundraising Campaign Is Best for Us?

The next step is to identify the specific type of fundraising campaign(s) best meets your needs. The selection of specific campaign(s) should be based on its potential considering your target donors, the timing of the campaign, the interest and expertise of your organization and its volunteers as well as availability of the necessary funds to cover start-up costs. Among the various types of campaigns are:


Food Sales Fundraising Campaigns

From Candy Bar Sales to Holiday Food Tins, there are a variety of food products that can be sold as part of a fundraising campaign. It is noteworthy to consider evolving trends when considering food sales. Across the nation, many schools are eliminating soda machines on campuses and stocking vending machines with healthier options. While this could translate to increased sales of candy, some schools and parents may not welcome fundraisers that run counter to these objectives. Consider too storage requirements (e.g. chocolate cannot be stored in hot conditions or it may melt, etc.) that can also influence the selection of products for resale.  Also, be sure to consider the shelf life (e.g. expiration date) on food products to ensure that they will be fresh well beyond the end of a campaign.


Product Sales Fundraising Campaigns


Selling products featuring your organizations logo, mascot or even just a cool design can be a great way to raise funds while enabling donors to show their support for the cause. Because promotional products are sold in bulk quantities, they can be purchased at a lower unit cost and then resold individually to target donors with the proceeds going to your cause. While many donors are willing to pay a reasonable premium for products that support worthy causes, there are limits to the price that can be charged. It’s best to keep pricing within 30% of comparable products sold at retail outlets. As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea to keep product costs at or below 50% of your planned sale price. It is also worth noting that your cause may raise more funds by selling a larger quantity of products at a lower price than to try to price products too high and end up with fewer sales. 

Product selection is important to the success of any Product Sales campaign.  Consider the following when selecting products for a resale fundraiser:

  • Consider your target donors when selecting products to ensure an appropriate match.  Selling ear buds to seniors may not be as effective as selling them to college students. 
  • Keep seasonal influences in mind.  You don’t want to be selling sleeve blankets in June.  Select appropriate products for the timing of the sale.
  • Products should offer some value to the donor, whether it’s satisfying a sweet tooth or meeting some functional need. 
  • Fashion and trends are important.  Check out retail ads and stores to see what’s hot and what’s not. Choose comparable products or similarly styled products. 
  • Consider companion products for those hot retail trends. Accessories (e.g. cases, styluses, etc.) for iPad and iPhones may benefit from the extraordinary popularity of the devices.
  • Avoid competition wherever possible.  There are hundreds of thousands of products that can be imprinted with your logo or design, select unique products (e.g. car chargers, acrylic tumblers, stadium seats, stadium scarves, umbrellas etc.) rather than the same products every other non-profit organization is selling (e.g. candy bars, etc.).
  • Don’t ignore the low cost items… remember those silicone wristbands?  Sometimes you can reap great rewards simply by selling a high quantity of low priced items.  
  • W    While many fundraisers utilize products with their logo for fundraising, it can be possible to make even a mundane product trendier with a unique imprint design.  If you have enough volume, you might even consider design sets that encourage multiple purchases.  If you can keep the design to a one-color imprint, it will help control costs.
  • Consider lead-times.  While the majority of promotional products can be produced in a matter of a couple weeks or less, lead times can vary from product to product.  The more customized a product is, the longer the lead time tends to be.  Fully customized products are often produced overseas and have much longer lead times for both production and shipping.  While air freight is possible, it can increase the cost substantially.  Planning ahead may allow you to take advantage of lower cost ocean shipping to minimize product and shipping costs allowing for greater profits.  So, if you want to sell fully custom holiday ornaments in November and December, you’ll want to consider ordering them in July or August.

Another aspect of Product Sales Fundraiser, consider setting up a “store” for the on-going purchase of logo merchandise.  Most colleges and universities sell products featuring the school logo, mascot or sports team logos on merchandise that is sold in school bookstores and, often, on-line stores for alumni and other supporters.  While many private high schools have long offered logo merchandise, the trend is also appearing at private schools as they face increasing budget challenges.

Check out our Fundraising Logo Products Specialty Categories for product ideas. 


Fundraising Raffles


A type of Fundraising Sale, raffles typically feature the opportunity to win a high dollar top prize like a car or trip with the purchase of a raffle ticket. Typically raffles include runner-up prizes for 2nd and 3rd place. The tickets are sold over the course of the campaign and a drawing of the winning ticket(s) occurs at the end of the campaign. Often big-ticket prizes are donated or heavily subsidized by a donor enabling the non-profit to realize most of the proceeds from ticket sales. Of course, there’s no reason that a raffle has to offer a new car or trip.  Consider a raffle featuring a lower cost top prize but will more runner-up prizes.  For example, a raffle might feature an iPad as the top prize with multiple runner up prizes like mobile chargers, digitally imprinted computer keyboards or logo iPad Cases.   


Scratch Off Campaigns


Like Raffles, Scratch Off Cards (a.k.a. “Scratchers”) feature a limited number of opportunities to win prizes for a nominal price.  In the case of scratchers, there are typically multiple prizes of varying values. One of the benefits of a scratcher campaign is that donors can scratch the card immediately to determine if they’ve won a prize which can lead to more “buzz” among prospective donors and additional sales. As an example, a non-profit could offer 1-2 top level prizes that are donated with values of $100-$250 each.  Then use sales proceeds to purchase 20 second tier prizes at a cost of $25 each (e.g. custom ipad cases) and 200 third tier prizes at a cost of $5 each (e.g. custom ear buds). If they then sold 2000 scratchers for $2 each they’d end up with proceeds of $2500 while offering donors better than a 1 in 10 chance of winning a prize.


Tasting Event Fundraisers


For a popular and relatively simple fundraiser, consider a Tasting Event. Wine Tasting in particular is an increasingly popular fundraising event.  The same concept could be applied to other items like micro-brews, martinis, cheeses, appetizers or other food. Typically, donors pay a flat fee and receive a customized wine glass (or pilsner, etc.) etched with the event’s name or non-profit’s logo and receive a fixed number of “tastes.” Participants can also purchase more tastes or full products at their discretion. There are a variety of additional elements that can be incorporated such as blind-tasting with a contest to match wines to their description, voting of best wine, and raffling of wine or wine glass sets. There could also be accompanying product sales opportunities such as custom etched wine bottles, imprinted wine glasses, custom wine tasting books, logo wine openers/corkscrews, custom wine charms and much more.   Some organizations even make this a quarterly event which combines fundraising with regular socializing.


In many cases, local wine bars, vineyards, micro-breweries, and restaurants have designated rooms that can be reserved for such events or may make the entire facility available during times when business is slower. In most cases, the non-profit pays for the wine used during the event with proceeds over and above that going to the non-profit. Businesses further benefit from those who may stay after the event or who purchase other items such as food or other beverages as well as exposure to new partons.


Casino Night


For a more traditional and somewhat more elaborate event, many donors enjoy Casino Night events featuring various games of chance. Participants make a donation for a flat fee and receive a fixed number of custom poker chips to use in playing various casino type games over the course of the evening. At the end of the night, participants may be awarded prizes (e.g. imprinted poker sets, etc.) based on who has earned the most chips.  Another option is to offer a selection of prizes at varying levels (e.g. Custom Marini Sets, Custom BBQ Sets, Decks of Cards, etc.) that can be redeemed for a specified number of chips. 


In many cases, casino floor equipment including roulette wheels, craps tables and card tables are available for rent from local businesses. Obviously, it’s important that play be restricted to use of chips only and ensure no actual monetary betting takes place. Of course, check local ordinances to ensure compliance with applicable laws and requirements. Check out our Casino Promotional Products Specialty Categories for some additional casino themed ideas.


Fundraising Auctions


Auctions are a popular fundraising event both in the form of live-auctions and silent auctions. While often requiring more planning and coordination, such events can yield substantial funds. Typically, non-profits secure items for auction as a donation from businesses and individuals. These may include products, services, trips or even access to high-profile community leaders or celebrities. The items are then auctioned either individually or combined into a bulk item that is then auctioned at an event that may include dinner, wine tasting or other activities. While the auction may include distributing auction paddles to attendees and use of an auctioneer, many non-profits rely on silent auctions allowing participants to browse the items and submit a bid on an accompanying bid sheet. At the end of the action period, the sheets are collected and the individual with the highest bid is awarded the item upon payment. 


Fundraising Walks/Rides


Of course, walks and bike rides are very popular fundraising events. Given the logistics of closing streets, securing permits and such, the large walks and rides are typically limited to larger non-profits with more resources. That said, smaller non-profits could leverage the concept by coordinating smaller-scale events at local parks or even college campuses. In particular, this could be a great option for schools who want to promote healthier lifestyles and exercise while raising funds for school activities. In addition to entry fees and distance pledges to walkers/riders that go to support the cause, non-profits can incorporate sales of event products such as imprinted t-shirts, embroidered caps, custom sports bottles and more. Be sure to include some sort of award ribbons or plaques for top donors to recognize their outstanding contribution. You might even consider giving all participants a custom coin or novelty item that they can collect each year that they participate to help encourage annual support. Check out our Awareness Walk & Run Logo Product Category for additional product options.


Fundraising "A-thons"


While less popular today than years ago, endurance type fundraising events like Dance-A-Thons might be a unique fundraising campaign given the increasing popularity of all things ‘retro’. With a school gym, dance studio or night club providing a dance floor and the services of a DJ, there’s relatively limited overhead costs. The retro theme could be expanded to include asking participants to wear 50’s style costumes. In addition to the entry fees and endurance pledges of participants, non-profits could also earn proceeds from sales of food and beverages as well as well as event products imprinted with a catchy 50’s style imprint. 


Garage Sale Fundraisers


For a relatively low-cost fundraiser, consider asking supporters to donate all that “stuff” cluttering up their garages and basements for a mass-garage sale with proceeds going to the non-profit. It can be a great way to help supporters de-clutter while giving non-profits a large supply of items that can be sold at the event. Among the biggest considerations is securing a place (e.g. parking lot, park, etc.) to hold the sale and finding a temporary location to store donated items until the event. Local schools, universities, and businesses may have parking facilities that can be used for the event over weekends and it may be possible to negotiate discounted use of a storage unit for a few weeks or month. For best results, secure volunteers with trucks and SUVs who can pick-up donated items from donors helping to ensure that all those best intentions of donors actually materialize. Be sure to advertise the “Huge” garage sale well in advance through use of flyers, posters, social media and newspapers (yes, people do still read those!). Have volunteers wear imprinted t-shirts advertising the event during the weeks and days prior to it as well as at the event. Contact local charities like Goodwill to see if they will pick up any of the items that do not sell. You’ll also need to set up some guidelines asking donors to ensure that all items donated are in working condition, clean, etc. Another twist on this, you could also “sell” spaces for a mass-garage sale to supporters who would then attend and sell their own goods to those attending. While this may help to eliminate pick up, storage and disposal logistics, it may not generate the same level of potential funding however.


Donor Solicitation Campaigns


Whether it’s a direct mail campaign, a phone-a-thon campaign or in-person solicitation of donations, it’s important to be able to clearly communicate what the purpose of your organization is as well as the purpose of the funds being requested. Brochures describing this information as well as the overall goals of the fundraising campaign are needed to both provide this information and demonstrate its legitimacy (after all, anyone can otherwise knock on a door and ask for a donation but few scammers will invest in documentation that can be verified later). For direct mail and in-person solicitations, the brochures should be provided with your request for a donation. For phone solicitation, they should be available upon request and preferably be provided when pledges or payments are made. It is always a good idea to set up a tier level like “Platinum”, “Gold”, “Silver” and “Bronze” since many donors will appreciate the acknowledgement of the higher levels of their gifts. To further encourage donations, consider offering tiered gifts associated with each level as a reward, or moment of their support. For example, a custom wine set with bottle stopper and corkscrew could be awarded to those donating at the Platinum level while a custom imprinted umbrella might be awarded at the gold level. 


It’s also a good idea to give donors the option of making an automatic debit recurring donation to fulfill their pledge. For those on tighter budgets, a $20 a month donation may be a much easier commitment to make than a one-time $240 annual donation. Too, many may elect to continue the auto-debit even beyond their pledge period. To further encourage auto-debit donations, award donors the corresponding level (e.g. “Gold”, etc.) based on the annual contribution. Just ensure that any gift awarded for that level is equal to or lower in value than the initial debit to ensure that costs of the gift are covered by the initial donation in the event that the donor subsequently cancels the recurring debits. 




While sponsorships and naming rights may be obvious options for new building facilities, this fundraising approach can also be employed for major renovations as well as events as a way to mitigate the associated costs. Of course, it’s important to give recognition to the sponsor whether it be in the form of a plaque on a newly renovated conference room or a banner at an event. The same approach could also be employed for smaller scale fundraisers with more limited duration. For example, schools might consider pursuing sponsors for classrooms whose donations might cover classroom supplies for the school year and acknowledging their sponsorship with a plaque on the classroom door. 


What’s Next?

Having identified the purpose of your fundraising efforts, your target donors, the best time for your fundraiser and the specific type of campaign(s) that you want to pursue, it’s time to put it all into a Fundraising Plan and implement the plan. The plan should include:

  • Fundraising Purpose
  • Target Timing
  • Paid and Volunteer Labor Requirements
  • Anticipated Costs
  • Budget Requirements (Initial and Phased)
  • Schedule & Tasking
  • Risks and Mitigation Strategies

In the course of laying out the plan, additional insight will be gained to further assess the viability of the fundraising effort. For example, in the course of defining all the tasking required to implement the campaign and lead times required for each, your schedule may show you that there’s not enough time to do everything and still meet your target date for the event or launch of the campaign. In such a case, you might reassess the target date or table the campaign until the next year when you can get an earlier start on implementation.

It’s also important to clearly identify the risks associated with the campaign and determine what steps can be taken to mitigate or limit these risks. For example, you may determine that 3 sponsors are needed to support food, beverage and facility requirements for an event. Without the sponsors for food and beverages, the costs would be prohibitive. Knowing this in combination with the schedule, you can then establish the priority and deadlines for soliciting for securing a sponsor or cancelling the campaign. 

Once your ready to proceed with implementing the plan, closely monitor your progress to the plan and update the plan as needed.  This will not only help you to ensure that you are sticking to the plan but will allow you to re-use the plan for future campaigns and benefiting from the lessons learned along the way.


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